Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review of "Hand to God"

A boy’s despondency over his father’s untimely death forms the catalyst for the new offbeat and raucous Broadway play, Hands to God.  Jason (Steven Boyer) has almost shut down over the anguish he feels.  The world is suffocating him.  He doesn’t communicate well with his mother Margery (Geneva Carr) who, as a way to cope with her grief, has started a puppet workshop at the local church run by Pastor Greg (Marc Kudisch).  Two other adolescents populate the class.  Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer), a slacker who has more then a puppy love passion for Margery; and Jessica (Sarah Stiles), a reticent, but assured young woman.  Within this stifling tension Jason’s hand puppet, Tyrone, suddenly acquires a mind of its own, a mind both nefarious and outrageous, which proves toxic for all involved. 

Playwright Robert Askins has written a truly original play that at its core is an examination of a young man’s descent and, finally ascent, from a personal hell.  He has crafted Tyrone to become an extension and conduit of all the hurt and pain Jason feels.  While the puppet is devilish, it is not possessed of anything greater then a youth’s demonstrative cries for help.  Askins has produced a lot of funny moments in the show, but Hand in God is more a sober affair.

Steven Boyer is superb.  He expressively conveys the angst and inner turmoil of Jason.  I’m sure many teenagers viewing this character would nod their head silently and knowingly.  But his portrayal of the hurting young man is only half of his outstanding performance.  During most of the show he is also the life essence of the demonic, foul-mouthed hand puppet Tyrone.  This is no simple sock puppet, but one manipulated with two rods.  Boyer transforms this inanimate being into a fully fleshed out part of the ensemble.  Many times during the play the two—Jason and Tyrone—are arguing or battling it out.  It is a truly bravo performance by the actor.

Geneva Carr as Margery is impressive as the impulsive, manic and fragile mother, still suffering the devastating loss of her husband and trying to communicate with her angry son.  Carr gives us a heart-wrenching portrayal of a woman in a downward tailspin.  Marc Kudisch is plain-speaking, vulnerable and lustful as Pastor Greg.  He infuses the minister with a humane and caring quality as the commotion on stage becomes more volatile.  Michael Oberholtzer is both menacing and childlike as the libidinous teenager Timothy and Sarah Stiles is soft-spoken, but quietly unflappable and courageous.

Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel adroitly brings out the disquietude within the production.  He creates a controlled mayhem and methodical rhythm to the play.  His foremost accomplishment is the work he has done with Boyer and Tyrone, both separately and as they meld into one.  Even though the focus of the show is on twosome he secures passionate and animated performances from the other actors.

Hand to God, funny, heartbreaking and coarse. 

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